Museum of Brisbane

For Maria

Museum of Brisbane welcomed its first Artist-in-Residence for 2019, Dr Janet Lee. Janet is a local writer who uses a phenomenological approach to examine objects and explore their ability to evoke emotion. In her writing practice, Janet often responds to ‘things’ – objects, places, buildings, clothes, letters, documents, photographs and artworks.

During her residency, Janet created new written narratives that responded to the artworks and objects in our exhibition, Micro Histories. The result was a series of short fiction works that imagine characters and plots inspired by the exhibition.

For Maria by Dr Janet Lee

Maria’s garden is made of charcoal. But it is lush and green.

In the dawn sun, tendrils wave and clasp poles as they stretch. Early morning Pilates.


Leaves unfurl.

Tiny flowers unfold.

Bees love.


Rosemary does not wave or clasp. She sits in her corner.

Back straight.

She feels the tickle of the bees. She watches.


Beside Rosemary is the delicious monster. Big leaves.

Strong roots.

Not much of a conversationalist. Rosemary does not mind.


She would not normally grow in a place like this.

She likes her soil much sandier, her space much sunnier. But she will grow here.

Grow thick.

Grow fragrant.

For Maria.


Maria still sits on the bench to have her morning coffee. The only time she stops in her day.

She tilts her face to feel the joy of the sun. Thinks of what she will cook her husband for dinner. Looks around her garden to see what is ripe.

Then, she remembers.


Sometimes, as she sips her coffee, Maria strokes Rosemary’s leaves. ‘Bella,’ she says.

She hears.

Does Rosemary.

Of Maria coming to Australia. Leaving her mother.

Coming with a man who said it would be the place for them to make a life. A man who said he would work hard for her.

Coming with just courage and a suitcase.


So strange this world she came to. Husband. Heat. Humidity.

So different this house she came to. Tin roof. Turning clothesline. Stumps.


The husband dug and toiled and planted. Maria dug and toiled and planted.

Rosemary was first to venture into the garden. And she grew.


Soon there were beans, flowers and tomatoes. Soon too, there were children.

Maria’s children. Babies, toddlers, adults, babies. Rosemary’s children. Cuttings, plants, cuttings, plants.

Then all their children went off to new lives, new places, new gardens.


Much later, now older, the husband would sit on the bench beside Maria. The husband who first gave her courage over 50 years ago.

He would sit with his morning coffee and he and Maria would tilt their faces to the sun.

Some mornings, that husband would turn to Maria and smile, gently stroke her face, worn now, kneaded by the years.

‘Bella’ he would say.


Then the time came that just Maria sat on the bench.

And the sun did not feel so warm. Maria tilted her face down.

She sat longer. She sat silent.

Tears watered Rosemary.

The weeds came to live in Maria’s garden. And it was some months before Maria bothered to pull them away.

Some months before she looked up, saw her garden, and found courage.


Rosemary knows that one day, one day soon, the weeds will come again. And there will be no Maria to pull them away.

The garden might be lost. But it will live on.

In charcoal.

And in Rosemary.

Who will remember.


Writer’s note:

In the beautiful pastel and charcoal drawing, Maria’s Garden, Harvest Moon, the artist Jane Grealy honours her neighbour’s garden, and, in her note on the work, she expresses a concern that the garden might be lost when the gardener eventually needs to leave.

A plant, which I imagine to be a rosemary plant, can be seen in the corner of the drawing. In the language of plants, rosemary is remembrance.

Jane Grealy, Maria’s Garden, Harvest Moon (2018). Pastel, charcoal on hot press watercolour paper. Image courtesy the artist.